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Walled Cities in Late Imperial China

Yannis Ioannides and Junfu Zhang ()

No 785, Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University from Department of Economics, Tufts University

Abstract: For thousands of years, the Chinese and many other nations around the workd built defensive walls around their cities. This phenomenon is not well understood from an economic perspective. To rationalize the existence of city walls, we propose a simple model that relates the deimesions of city walls to a set of economic variables. Guided by this model, we conduct an empirical alyalysis using hand-collected and previously unused data on city walls in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. Consistent with the model, we find that the circumference of a city wall is positively correlated with population size in the jurisdiction and that frontier cities subject to a higher probability of attack tended to have stronger city walls. Since a city wall imposes a physical boundary around a city, the land area inside the city wall provides a natural proxy of city size. We examine the physical size distribution of walled cities in late imperial Chian. We find that city sizes above a certain cutoff follow Zipf's law, although the Zipf coefficient is sensitive to the choice of the cutoff point. This result complements findigs in the existing literature that focuses almost exclusively on the population size distribution of cities.

Keywords: City walls; Pareto distribution; Zipf's law; power law; China (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: R12 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cna, nep-evo, nep-gro and nep-ure
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Journal Article: Walled cities in late imperial China (2017) Downloads
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